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Introduction To Recording For Music Producers

mnm Introduction To Recording For Music Producers large | My New Microphone

Recording is an essential skill for music producers, even if you plan on relying solely on pre-recorded samples and programmed virtual instruments. It's more than just capturing sound; it's an art form that transforms raw musical ideas into tangible, lasting expressions.

What is recording? Recording, in music production, is the capturing of musical performances using microphones and other instruments and equipment, converting them into digital or analog formats for editing, mixing and playback.

The significance of recording in music production cannot be overstated. Over the decades, recording has evolved beyond a technical procedure to become a vital medium for artistic expression and innovation.

It's where technology meets creativity, resulting in the immortalization of performances that define and shape cultural landscapes.

This introductory article is a long one, so please feel free to jump around using the table of contents provided below:


The Importance Of Recording In Music Production

The importance of recording and recorded music is self-evident. Without it, we wouldn't be able to listen to our favourite songs at any time. Rather, we'd have to wait for an opportunity to hear the music performed live or learn to play it all ourselves.

Audio recording has come a long way since its birth in the 19th century (that history is for another article). From the single-source/single-take recording for the early phonograph to the virtually limitless multitracking of modern DAWs, recording has allowed us to enjoy music from around the world for well over a century.

I just wanted to start off by quickly stating how important recording is. Let's get into the rest of the article!


Essential Recording Gear For Music Production

The quality of your recording largely depends on the gear you use and the environment you record in.

The term audio engineer comes from those who designed, built, fixed, and advanced recording technology. Nowadays, the music studio as we know it has largely been democratized thanks to affordable digital options.

So we don't have to be engineers to record great music, but we should be aware of the essential tools of the trade.

We'll start with recording digital audio to a hard drive utilizing a digital audio workstation, as this is the most common method today. We can then move on to recording analog audio and notably to tape, as this is the common multitrack option (remember that this is an “introductory” article).

Essential Gear For Recording Digital Audio

mnm Signal Flow Diagrams Basic Digital Recording Setup | My New Microphone

Microphones: the microphone is your first point of contact with sound. It's responsible for converting acoustic energy into electrical signals. Different types of microphones, like dynamic, condenser, and ribbon, offer various sound characteristics, making them suitable for specific instruments, vocals and other sound sources.

Electric instruments (for direct inject): rather than capturing sound waves with microphones, we can opt to record directly from electric instruments (think electric guitars and basses, synthesizers, and electric keyboards) that output audio signals.

Audio interfaces: an audio interface acts as the bridge between your microphone and your computer. It converts the microphone's analog signal into a digital format that your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) can understand. A good interface ensures minimal latency and high-fidelity signal conversion.

Digital audio workstations (DAWs): This is where the magic happens. A DAW is a software used for recording, editing, mixing, and mastering audio files. It's the canvas where you paint your sonic landscapes. Popular DAWs include Pro Tools, Logic ProAbleton Live, and FL Studio.

Virtual instruments: virtual instruments offer in-the-box sound creation (often via MIDI) that can be recorded within the DAW.

Monitors: finally, studio monitors or headphones are crucial for accurate monitoring and audio playback. Unlike consumer speakers and headphones, which often colour the sound to make it more pleasing, studio monitors and headphones typically provide a relatively flat, uncolored representation of your audio, allowing you to make critical decisions about your mix.

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Essential Gear For Recording Analog Audio

When it comes to recording analog audio to tape, we still utilize microphones, electric instruments, monitors and headphones. However, we'll swap out the interface, computer/DAW and other software for the following:

Mixing console: in an analog setup, a mixing console is more than just a routing hub; it's the heart of your recording environment. Consoles like the Neve 8048 or SSL E-Series are famous for the distinct sonic imprint they leave on recordings. Each console has its unique character, often imparting a certain warmth and depth to the sound.

Neve And SSL

Neve and SSL are featured in My New Microphone's Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands.

Tape machines: the tape machine is the centrepiece of any analog setup for multitrack recording. Brands like Studer, Ampex, and Otari are well-known in the industry. When choosing a tape machine, consider the type of tape it uses (e.g., 2-inch 24-track or 1-inch 8-track) and its operational condition. Tape machines require regular maintenance and calibration to perform at their best.

Outboard gear (preamps, EQs, compressors): analog outboard gear, often inserted within the console channel strips, plays a significant role in shaping your sound before it hits the tape. Tube preamps can add warmth and depth, while solid-state preamps offer clarity and precision. Classic hardware EQs and compressors like the Pultec EQP-1A and the Urei 1176 are staples in many studios for their characteristic sound and tactile control.

Pultec

Pultec is featured in My New Microphone's Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World.


Setting Up Your Recording Space

mnm Arthur Fox LPX Flextime 5 | My New Microphone

Starting in the world of recording can be daunting, especially with the plethora of equipment options available. I'd almost always suggest going the digital route, especially if you're new and/or on a budget.

First, we should consider the space. For most of us, we'll have to find a spot within our house or apartment. Home studios are somewhat the norm, and without having a purpose-built studio space, we'll have to do with what we've got.

Personally, I've set up in bedrooms in houses and apartments I've rented, in dorm rooms at university, and now that I own a house, in a spare bedroom.

If you have the option, choose the room with dimensions least like a cube (differences in height, width and depth) and/or furthest from the central HVAC and other appliances.

If you don't have dedicated acoustic treatment, try bringing in furniture to absorb and diffuse the sound. There is a benefit of setting up a “bedroom studio” in that there's already a bed and likely a dresser in the room. Bookshelves, couches, chairs, curtains, and other furniture can also help improve the acoustics of the recording space.

That covers the basics for room acoustics.

In my home studio, I have a small closet (fit for an amp cabinet) and an additional bedroom that can double as booths for recording. I'll take advantage of these spaces whenever I need to monitor the recording through my studio monitors.

I'll set up the talent (musicians), instruments and microphones, and run cables to these spaces for recording in an attempt to minimize bleed from the studio monitors. The second room is separated by a hallway so there are two doors between the “control room” and the “live room”.

However, in most cases, I'll record in my main studio space and simply monitor via headphones.

When recording inside your home studio, focus on miking technique and placement (if you're using microphones). Use vocal shields and other acoustic treatment to your advantage to reduce excessive reflections and the comb filtering that comes as a result.

When recording electric instruments directly, the recording environment doesn't matter that much, so long as the equipment is adequate and the studio is conducive to proper performance.

Speaking of equipment, there are plenty of possible gear setups when it comes to recording audio and music production. My advice is always to develop a deep understanding of whatever you have and only to invest in additional gear as necessary.

Speaking of ergonomics and performance, these aspects are largely subjective to both you and the musicians/clients you work with. An ergonomically designed studio not only boosts productivity but also helps in maintaining the physical well-being of artists and engineers.

Designed your workstation keeping as much essential equipment within easy reach as possible. This minimizes strain and fatigue, allowing engineers and musicians to focus on their creative process without physical discomfort.

Lighting should ideally be adjustable to suit different moods and times of the day, reducing eye strain and creating a comfortable working environment.

Consider, too, the placement of microphones along with their stands and mounts. They should allow for easy adjustments to suit different players and playing styles. This flexibility helps in maintaining a natural posture while playing, reducing the risk of repetitive strain injuries.

My Quick Recommendations For Beginner Recording Setups

Without going into detail, here are a few of my recommendations for an affordable recording setup:

Microphones: Shure SM57 (dynamic) and Rode NT1-A (condenser)

Shure And Rode

Shure and Rode are featured in My New Microphone's Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.

Electric instrument (for direct inject): whatever you have

Audio interfaces: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Product picture of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Focusrite

Focusrite is featured in My New Microphone's Top 11 Best Audio Interface Brands In The World.

Digital audio workstations (DAWs): whichever you prefer (I personally use Logic Pro X for music production)

YouTube video

Monitors: Yamaha HS5

Product picture of the Yamaha HS5 studio monitor.
Yamaha HS5

Yamaha

Yamaha is featured in My New Microphone's Top 11 Best Studio Monitor Brands You Should Know And Use.

Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Product picture of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x studio headphones.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Audio-Technica

Audio-Technica is featured in My New Microphone's Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World.


Recording Outside Of Your Space

Recording outside your typical studio space presents unique challenges. Whether you're capturing sounds in a different studio, a live venue, or an unconventional location.

Of course, the demands of recording sessions vary greatly.

Some situations could be as simple as showing up with a stereo Zoom recorder (or even a smartphone in cases where fidelity isn't a priority).

Other situations may warrant a full mobile setup full of high-end equipment.

Regardless of the material to be recorded, here are some key considerations for setting up successful recording sessions outside of your space:

Familiarize Yourself With The New Environment

If possible, visit the location before the recording day to understand its acoustic properties and layout.

Identify potential noise sources, such as traffic, HVAC systems, or room echoes, and plan how to minimize their impact.

Understanding the space helps in making informed decisions about microphone placement and sound isolation. Take photos and notes as necessary to help plan out your strategy.

Portable And Versatile Equipment

When recording outside your own studio, portability becomes crucial. Opt for compact, durable, and versatile gear that can handle a variety of recording situations.

This includes microphones suitable for different sound sources, portable audio interfaces, and reliable headphones. Battery-powered equipment (and extra batteries and battery chargers) can be a lifesaver in locations without easy access to power.

Adaptability And Problem-Solving

Be prepared to adapt to the unexpected. This might mean improvising sound baffles with available materials, adjusting microphone techniques to suit the acoustics, or even rearranging the recording schedule to work around noise interruptions.

A flexible mindset and problem-solving approach are essential.

Efficient Setup And Teardown

Time is often limited when recording outside your studio. Plan your setup and teardown processes to be as efficient as possible.

This includes having a clear plan for equipment placement, cable management, and quick troubleshooting methods. Labelling cables and organizing gear can save valuable time.

Communication And Collaboration

Clear communication with everyone involved is key, especially when working in a new environment. This includes musicians, assistants, and any on-site staff.

Establishing a collaborative atmosphere ensures that everyone is on the same page and contributes to a smooth recording session.

Backup Plans

Always have a backup plan. This could mean bringing spare cables, microphones, and even a backup recording device.

Unexpected issues can arise, and being prepared can make the difference between a successful session and a failed one.


Microphone Techniques

mnm Top 8 Best Stereo Miking Techniques With Recommended Mics large | My New Microphone

As a music producer, understanding microphone techniques is crucial for capturing the essence of your sound. Here are a few pointers to help you with the art of microphone placement and selection.

Choosing The Right Microphone

  • Dynamic microphones: ideal for loud sources like drums and guitar amps.
  • Condenser microphones: perfect for capturing vocal nuances and acoustic instruments.
  • Ribbon microphones: known for their warm, vintage sound, great for mellow sources.
  • Polar pattern: the directional sensitivity characteristics of the mic.

Microphone Placement

  • Proximity effect: closer placement boosts bass frequencies, useful for a richer sound.
  • Off-axis recording: angling the microphone can reduce harshness and add character.
  • Mic bleed: positioning the microphones so they primarily capture the intended source and minimal noise/sound from other sources.
  • Stereo techniques: techniques like X/Y, ORTF, and Blumlein pair capture spatial and ambient information.

Environment Considerations

  • Room Acoustics: as discussed previously, be aware of room reflections and consider using acoustic treatment.
  • Isolation: use isolation shields or gobos to minimize bleed between instruments.

Experimentation Is Key

  • Try different setups: experiment with mic types and placements to find the best sound in your specific recording space.
  • Trust your ears: ultimately, your ears are the best judge of what sounds good. Even the most experimental techniques are warranted when they sound great!

By mastering these microphone techniques, you'll be well-equipped to capture professional-quality recordings in any setting. Remember, the key to great recording lies in understanding the tools at your disposal and using your ears to guide your decisions.


Recording Various Instruments

Being comfortable and effective at recording various instruments is a skill that will greatly enhance the quality of your final mixes.

In this section, I hope to help you navigate the nuances of recording different instruments, complete with common challenges, helping to capture the true essence of common instruments and ensure the best possible recordings in your productions.

This is simply my advice to you. It's ultimately up to you to get the sound you want out of your recordings, so experiment and do whatever you want to do! The pointers from each instrument in this section could, in many ways, be applied more generally to recording.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any special ways of recording your instruments, and be sure to check out my recommended microphones for each instrument via this link!

Drum Kits

mnm Musical Instrument Drums 9 | My New Microphone

To capture the essence of drum kits, focus on the balance between the individual drums and the overall kit. Use close miking for clarity and detail, and overhead mics to capture the cymbals and the kit's spatial feel. Pay attention to mic phase alignment to ensure a cohesive sound.

  • Kick drum: use a dynamic microphone inside the drum for punch and/or a condenser outside for resonance. Placing a microphone on the beater side of the kick drum can help capture more attack from the beaters hitting the drum. Use multiple microphones if necessary.
  • Snare drum: a dynamic mic above the snare captures the attack of the stick hitting the snare drum. Placing another below captures the snares. When miking snares with two microphones pointed in opposite directions like this, be sure to flip the polarity of one of them for improved phase cohesion.
  • Overheads: condenser mics in a stereo pair are a good choice for capturing the cymbals and overall kit. Try placing them equidistant from the snare drum to help with the overall phase cohesion of the kit (assuming the snare is the most commonly hit drum).
  • Other spot miking: other drums (notably toms) and cymbals can be close-miked for improved clarity. While this can be useful in the mix, it can also contribute to the potential phase issues of recording an entire kit.
  • Room miking: place one or more microphones at a distance to capture the kit's sound waves interacting within the room. This is a great way to add realism and dimensionality to the kit as a whole.

Addressing common challenges when recording drum kits:

  • Phase issues: multiple microphones can lead to phase cancellation, affecting the overall sound.
  • Bleed: mics picking up sounds from other drums or cymbals can complicate mixing by causing the individual drum/cymbal tracks to be noisy and, in especially bad cases, somewhat ill-defined.
  • Dynamic range: capturing both the loud hits and subtle nuances requires careful mic placement and gain settings.

Hand Percussion

mnm Musical Instrument Hand Percussion 4 | My New Microphone

Capturing the essence of hand percussion is typically made easiest by close miking with small-diaphragm condenser microphones that can effectively capture the sharp transients and intricate details.

A stereo pair can help place the percussion in a spatial context, adding depth and realism to the recording.

Balancing the natural acoustics of the room with the direct sound of the instrument is key to achieving a recording that is both vibrant and true to the instrument's character.

  • Close miking: use close miking techniques to capture the intricate details and nuances of hand percussion.
  • Mic choice: small-diaphragm condenser microphones are ideal for their clarity and ability to capture fast transients. However, in less-than-ideal acoustic environments, dynamic microphones may pick up less noise while still handling the transient levels (though arguably less accurately).
  • Stereo recording: for a more spacious and natural sound, consider using a stereo pair of microphones.
  • Room acoustics: pay attention to the room's acoustics, as they can greatly influence the recorded sound.
  • Gain staging: properly set gain levels to capture the dynamic range without clipping.

Addressing common challenges when recording hand percussion:

  • Handling noise: minimizing noise from handling the instruments or from the player's movements.
  • Transient peaks: managing the high transient peaks without losing detail or causing distortion. Pay attention to the signal peaks being recorded as well as the signal-to-noise ratio.
  • Consistent volume: maintaining a consistent volume level, especially with dynamic playing. Of course, the transient levels will largely be a direct result of the percussionist, though it's worth looking out for.
  • Mic placement: finding the optimal mic placement to capture the full tonal range without overwhelming certain frequencies.
  • Bleed from other instruments: when recording ensembles, isolate the hand percussion from other instruments by using creative microphone placement, gobos and other acoustic treatment, or even different rooms.

Bass Guitar

mnm Guitar Amp 10 | My New Microphone

For bass guitar, blend the directness and clarity of a DI signal with the warmth and character of a miked amp. This combination captures both the low-end punch and the harmonic richness of the bass.

  • Direct input (DI): For a clean sound, record the bass directly into your interface. This can be done straight from the bass, through a direct inject box (DI box), via the line out of a bass amp or through one or more pedals.
  • Microphone: a dynamic mic with good low-end response is the typical choice for miking the front of a bass amp cabinet.

Addressing common challenges when recording bass guitar:

  • Low frequencies: accurately capturing low frequencies without muddiness is challenging. EQ can help with this.
  • DI vs. amp sound: balancing the clarity of DI recording with the character of an amp can sometimes be tricky, though this is generally finalized in the mixing stage.

Electric Guitar

mnm Miking An Orange Crush 35RT With Shure SM58 5 1 edited scaled | My New Microphone

Electric guitar recording is all about capturing the interaction between the guitar and the amp. Experiment with mic placement close to the speaker for capturing the amp's character, and consider adding a room mic for natural ambience and depth.

  • Close miking: place a dynamic mic close to the speaker cabinet for a direct, punchy sound. Moving the mic further away will reduce the bass response due to the proximity effect. Moving the microphone closer to the surround edge of the speaker will reduce midrange and upper-mid frequencies while moving the microphone toward the center of the speaker will emphasize the midrange.
  • Room miking: adding a room mic captures the ambience and fullness of the guitar tone, helping give dimension to the sound.
  • Direct input (DI): for a clean sound that can be taken as is or, more commonly, run through amp simulators and other processes inside the DAW.

Addressing common challenges when recording electric guitar:

  • Amp noise: amps can introduce unwanted noise, especially with high-gain settings.
  • Mic positioning: finding the sweet spot on the speaker cone greatly affects the tone.
  • Volume levels: high volumes needed for certain tones can be problematic in some recording environments.

Acoustic Guitar

mnm Recording Classical Guitar 2 1 | My New Microphone

The key to recording acoustic guitar is to capture its natural resonance and string articulation. A well-placed condenser microphone near the 12th fret and/or the soundhole can provide a balanced and detailed sound. For stereo depth, use a matched pair of small-diaphragm condensers.

  • Stereo pair: use a pair of small-diaphragm condensers for a natural, spacious sound.
  • Single mic technique: position a large-diaphragm condenser near the 12th fret for a balanced tone.
  • Direct input (DI): if your acoustic guitar happens to have a pickup, you can record directly into the DAW. Apply processing as needed.

Addressing common challenges when recording acoustic guitar:

  • Room acoustics: the sound can be greatly influenced by the room, requiring careful placement.
  • String noise: minimizing finger and fret noise while maintaining a natural sound.
  • Stereo imaging: achieving a balanced stereo image with two mics can sometimes be challenging.

Piano

mnm Recording Piano 2 | My New Microphone

To capture the piano's full range and dynamic expression, use a pair of condenser microphones placed inside a grand piano or near the back of an upright. This setup ensures capturing the instrument's rich tonal qualities and the subtle nuances of the performance.

  • Grand piano: place a pair of condensers inside, over the strings, for a rich, detailed sound. These can be panned in stereo for a wider image.
  • Upright piano: miking the back or the bottom can capture the woodiness and character of the instrument. Placing the mics at the open top will capture a brighter sound with more room.

Addressing common challenges when recording piano:

  • Internal reflections: the complex internal reflections of a piano make mic placement critical.
  • Pedal noise: capturing the pedal noise may or may not be wanted in the recording.
  • Consistent dynamics: balancing the dynamics across the keyboard range.

Vocals

mnm Neumann Mic In Studio 18 | My New Microphone

Vocal recording is about capturing the emotion and clarity of the performance. Use a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a pop filter to capture the nuances of the voice. Pay attention to the vocalist's position and the room's acoustics to ensure a clean, natural sound.

  • Condenser microphone: often ideal for capturing the nuances and clarity of the voice.
  • Dynamic microphones: often ideal for louder vocal styles such as screaming and percussive vocal styles such as rapping.
  • Pop filter: essential for reducing plosives and protecting the mic from moisture.
  • Positioning slightly off-axis: point directional microphones slightly off-axis can also help with plosives reducing plosives.

Addressing common challenges when recording vocals:

  • Sibilance and plosives: managing sibilance and plosives without affecting clarity.
  • Room echo: minimizing room echo and reflections, especially in untreated rooms. Dynamic microphones often capture less environmental noise.
  • Performance consistency: keeping the vocalist at a consistent distance from the mic. Utilizing compression in mixing will also help.

Strings And Orchestral Instruments

mnm Musical Instrument Viola 1 | My New Microphone

Obviously lumping all these instruments together is a drastic oversimplification, but for the sake of keeping this article short, I'll be doing just that.

Recording these instruments requires capturing their natural warmth and dynamic range. Use small-diaphragm condenser microphones to maintain detail and clarity. For ensembles, a stereo pair or a Decca Tree arrangement can effectively capture the group's collective sound.

  • Individual miking: try small or large-diaphragm condensers for individual string instruments.
  • Section miking: a stereo pair or a Decca Tree arrangement captures the ensemble's fullness.

Addressing common challenges when recording strings and orchestral instruments:

  • Room acoustics: these instruments often rely heavily on the acoustics of the room.
  • Mic bleed: in ensemble settings, isolating individual instruments can be difficult.
  • Dynamic range: capturing the wide dynamic range without clipping or losing detail.

Brass And Woodwinds

mnm Musical Instrument Flute 2 | My New Microphone

Similar to the section above, combining brass and woodwind instruments together isn't necessarily fair, but since they aren't the most common (and there are so many different instruments within these groups), I'll discuss them together here.

These instruments tend to have wide dynamic ranges and rich harmonic profiles. Use dynamic or ribbon microphones capable of handling high SPLs, placed at a distance to capture the full tonal quality without harshness or distortion.

  • Dynamic or ribbon mics: These handle the high sound pressure levels and capture the warmth of brass and woodwinds.

Addressing common challenges when recording brass and woodwind instruments:

  • Proximity effect: close miking can exaggerate low frequencies.
  • Breath sounds: capturing the instrument's tone without intrusive breath sounds.
  • SPL handling: choose a mic capable of handling the high sound pressure levels (instrument-dependent) without distortion.

By understanding these techniques and applying them to your recordings, you'll be able to capture the unique qualities of each instrument, creating a rich and dynamic mix.

Remember, experimentation is key, so don't be afraid to try different approaches to find what works best for your production.


The Role Of The Producer In Recording

The music producer plays a crucial role in recording sessions, combining technical know-how with a practical approach to creativity to help bring the artistic vision of the music to fruition.

Here's an overview of the possible roles of the producer during recording sessions and the overall recording process:

Typical Producer Responsibilities

  • Setting direction: understand the project's goals and sound, and guide the creative process.
  • Technical management: handle, or at least oversee, the equipment setup and sound quality.
  • Budget and schedule: keep the project within budget and on schedule.
  • Post-production: oversee mixing and mastering to finalize the track.

Utilizing Technical Skills And Creativity

  • Technical knowledge: understand recording gear and software.
  • Creative contributions: suggest ideas for song arrangements and sounds.
  • Problem-solving: address technical and artistic issues during sessions.
  • Flexibility: adapt to different music styles and artist preferences.

Working With Artists

  • Effective communication: clearly communicate ideas and instructions.
  • Understanding artists: respect the artist's vision and work to enhance it.
  • Providing feedback: offer constructive criticism to improve performance.
  • Handling conflicts: resolve issues between team members smoothly.

In essence, the producer's role in recording sessions is to ensure that the technical aspects of recording are seamlessly integrated with the artistic vision of the project. Producers act as a bridge between the engineers and the artists, ensuring that the project is completed efficiently and effectively, aligning with the intended artistic goals.


Recording Session Workflow

mnm Recording Classical Guitar 2 | My New Microphone

Let's consider a generalized workflow for recording music, emphasizing points in pre-production/preparation, the actual recording day and recording processes, and the workflow post-recording:

Preproduction And Pre-Session Preparation

  • Session planning:
    • Define the goals and scope of the session.
    • Choose the appropriate repertoire or song list to be recorded.
    • Acquire any pre-existing assets required for the session (click tracks/sessions, samples, multitracks, plugins and effects chains, instruments, etc.)
    • Get to know the artist(s) and the artistic vision beforehand.
  • Equipment check:
    • Ensure the necessary gear is available and functioning properly.
    • Check microphones, cables, audio interfaces, monitors, headphones, and instruments.
  • Software setup:
    • Update and configure your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
    • Create a new session(s) with appropriate track labelling and routing.
  • Room preparation:
    • Set up acoustic treatment as needed.
    • Arrange the recording space for comfort and efficiency.

Day Of The Session

  • Artist arrival and briefing:
    • Welcome the artists and discuss the session plan.
    • Address any last-minute changes or concerns.
  • Instrument and mic setup:
    • Set up instruments and microphones according to the recording plan.
    • Perform sound checks and adjust mic placement as needed.
  • Headphone mix setup:
    • Create a comfortable headphone mix for each performer.
    • Check for clarity and balance in the mix.
  • Recording levels and monitoring:
    • Set appropriate input levels to avoid clipping.
    • Monitor the sound through studio speakers and headphones.

Recording Process

  • Recording takes:
    • Record multiple takes for each part, if necessary.
    • Provide feedback and direction to the artists.
  • Ensemble recording:
    • Record multiple performers at once, ensuring the performances are to standard from a performance and technical standpoint.
  • Overdubbing and layering:
    • Record additional layers or overdubs as required.
    • Focus on capturing the best performance for each part.
  • Review and playback:
    • Review takes with the artists.
    • Make notes of preferred takes or any needed corrections.

Post-Recording

  • Data backup:
    • Back up all recorded tracks and session data.
    • Organize files and label them clearly.
  • Rough mix:
    • Create a rough mix for reference.
    • Share with the artists for initial feedback.
  • Session wrap-up:
    • Discuss the next steps, such as editing, mixing, and mastering.
    • Schedule any necessary follow-up sessions.

Follow-Up

  • Editing and processing:
    • Edit the tracks for timing and pitch, if necessary.
    • Apply basic processing like EQ and compression to clean up the tracks.
  • Mixing and mastering:
    • Proceed with mixing and mastering, either in-house or with a specialized engineer.
    • Ensure the final product meets the artistic vision and industry standards.
  • Delivery and archiving:
    • Deliver the final mix to the artist or label.
    • Archive the session files for future reference or revisions.

Recording Yourself Vs. Recording Others

Many of you reading this will be producing and recording your own music.

While it's awesome to be able to do both (I do it all the time), you may want to consider choosing one role over the other and asking for help with your project (time and budget allowing, of course).

Being able to focus on the musical performance (as the artist) without the technical (as the engineer-producer), or vice versa, can certainly aid in improving the final results of the production.


Overcoming Common Recording Challenges

Let's turn our attention to commonly encountered recording challenges and how we can go about overcoming them. This section will help guide you through these challenges, ensuring your recording sessions are as smooth and productive as possible.

Poor Room Acoustics

  • Challenge: Poor room acoustics can lead to unwanted reverb, echo, or a flat sound.
  • Solutions:
    • Use acoustic treatment like foam panels, bass traps, and diffusers.
    • Position microphones strategically to minimize room reflections.
    • Consider close-miked dynamic microphones rather than distant-miked condenser microphones.
    • Consider building a permanent isolation booth or utilizing a portable isolation booth for vocal recording.

Managing Noise And Interference

  • Challenge: Background noise and electrical interference can ruin a good take.
  • Solutions:
    • Identify and eliminate sources of environmental noise (e.g., air conditioning, street noise).
    • Use balanced cables and power conditioners to reduce electrical hum.
    • Record during quieter times or in more isolated locations.

Handling Microphone Bleed

  • Challenge: Microphone bleed can complicate mixing, especially with multiple instruments.
  • Solutions:
    • Use directional microphones and proper placement to isolate sound sources.
    • Employ isolation shields or gobos between instruments.
    • Consider close miking techniques and overdubbing when necessary.
    • Run a test record and listen and check the audio files for phase issues to help position microphones more appropriately.

Capturing Dynamic Performances

  • Challenge: Recording dynamic ranges without clipping or losing detail.
  • Solutions:
    • Use proper gain staging to ensure a clean signal without clipping.
    • Record at 24-bit depth for greater dynamic range.
    • Utilize a light amount of compression during recording to tame peaks.

Dealing With Phase Issues

  • Challenge: Phase cancellation when using multiple microphones.
  • Solutions:
    • Check the phase relationship between microphones during setup.
    • Adjust microphone positions to align phase.
    • Use phase inversion switches on your mixer, interface or DAW if available.

Ensuring Consistent Vocal Takes

  • Challenge: Maintaining consistency in vocal performances across takes.
  • Solutions:
    • Keep the vocalist comfortable and hydrated.
    • Mark the vocalist's position to ensure consistent distance from the mic.
    • Take breaks to avoid vocal fatigue.

Keeping Instruments In Tune

  • Challenge: Maintaining consistent tuning across all instruments and all takes.
  • Solutions:
    • Intonate each instrument properly before the recording session.
    • Set a tuning standard (A=440 Hz or A=432 Hz, for example).
    • Tune instruments between each take. Use digital tuners for greater accuracy.
    • For string instruments, tune “up to” the note rather than “down to” the note.

Dealing With Latency

  • Challenge: Excessive latency in monitoring via digital-analog conversion in the signal routing.
  • Solutions:
    • Use fewer plugins during recording and exit out of applications that utilize audio (other than your DAW).
    • Reduce the buffer size as low as possible without incurring crackles, static noise, pops or dropouts.
    • Upgrade your audio interface and/or computer.
    • Use direct monitoring if necessary and possible.

Maintaining Consistency Across Multiple Sessions

  • Challenge: having to record a single project across multiple sessions while making it sound cohesive.
  • Solution:
    • Keep the recording setup the same throughout the entirety of the project if possible.
    • Use the same microphones, acoustic space and outboard processing throughout.
    • Try to keep the performers in the same headspace and the same “vibe” in the studio throughout the project.

Tips For Effective Recording

A Sennheiser microphone miking a guitar cabinet.

This article's already long, so here's a simple list of tips for recording with short descriptions:

  1. Understand your equipment: familiarize yourself with the capabilities and limitations of your recording setup, including your microphones, audio interface, monitors, and other recording gear.
  2. Maintain your equipment: regularly clean and check your equipment for any issues.
  3. Optimize room acoustics: treat your recording space to minimize unwanted reflections and reverberations. Use acoustic panels, bass traps, and diffusers as needed.
  4. Minimize background noise: identify and eliminate sources of noise in your recording environment, such as air conditioning, computer fans, or external traffic.
  5. Use isolation techniques: isolate sound sources using gobos or isolation shields to reduce bleed between microphones.
  6. Check for phase issues: when using multiple microphones, ensure they are in phase to avoid frequency cancellations.
  7. Choose the right microphone: select a microphone that best suits the instrument or voice you are recording. Consider the mic's pickup pattern, frequency response, and sensitivity.
  8. Proper microphone placement: experiment with mic placement to find the sweet spot that captures the best sound of the instrument or voice.
  9. Use a pop filter for vocals: a pop filter reduces plosives and helps protect the microphone from moisture.
  10. Experiment with room miking: in addition to close miking, try room miking to capture a more natural and ambient sound.
  11. Keep cables organized: proper cable management prevents accidents and signal interference.
  12. Record at high resolution: use a high sample rate and bit depth (at least 24-bit/48kHz) to ensure high-quality recordings.
  13. Monitor sound levels: keep an eye on your levels to avoid clipping while ensuring a strong enough signal.
  14. Use headphones for monitoring: closed-back headphones are great for monitoring during recording to prevent bleed into the microphone.
  15. Backup your recordings: regularly back up your recordings to avoid data loss.
  16. Take breaks: regular breaks help maintain focus and prevent ear fatigue.
  17. Trust your ears: ultimately, your ears are your best tool. Trust them to make decisions about sound quality and adjustments.
  18. Stay calm and patient: recording can be a time-consuming process; patience is key to achieving the best results.
  19. Communicate effectively with artists: clear communication with the artist or band is crucial for a successful recording session.
  20. Stay open to learning: the field of audio recording is always evolving. Stay open to new techniques, technologies, and ideas.

Call To Action

Think and act as a producer the next time you're recording. Practice and patience go a long way as you learn the ins and outs of these processes!
Consider all the concepts and tips discussed in this article and apply whatever can help your productions and recording sessions.


Related Questions

What is the goal of music production? Music production is about creating a bridge from an artist's vision and performance to a polished sound that resonates through our speakers. It's about ensuring the songwriting and composition have the maximum impact on the end listener upon consumption of the music “product” being played back.

For more information: The Goal Of Music Production And Why It’s Important

What is mixing? Mixing music and audio is the art of balancing levels of multiple audio tracks together. A good mix is achieved with both technical and creative excellence. It's about adjusting their levels, panning, and applying effects like EQ and compression to create a cohesive, balanced final audio piece.

For more information: Introduction To Mixing For Music Producers


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